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Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - Page updated at 05:00 a.m.

Books for autumn reading: new novels by Wiggs, Jio and Macomber

By Melinda Bargreen
Special to The Seattle Times

As the gold of early autumn turns toward gray skies, readers still rejoice. There's nothing like a chill fall day and an entertaining book.

Here are three by Seattle-area authors to entertain you with settings of lakes and harbors and unseasonal snowstorms. Put the coffee on, put your feet up and enjoy.

"Return to Willow Lake" by Susan Wiggs (Harlequin Mira, $24.95, 311 pages). Bainbridge Island author Susan Wiggs has had a string of successes in her "Lakeshore Chronicles" books, set in the Catskills. "Return to Willow Lake" is the ninth novel in that series. It's clear from this densely plotted book, full of lively characters, that Wiggs is certainly not running out of steam.

At the center of the book is Sonnet Romano, a biracial young UNESCO administrator whose birth was the result of a youthful indiscretion by her important but distant father, an Army general who is now running for the U.S. Senate. Sonnet's mother, who was underage at the time, is now happily married, is expecting a late-life baby — and is also newly diagnosed with cancer.

A life-changing set of decisions awaits Sonnet: whether to ditch a prestigious fellowship, a high-profile job and a promising romance with her father's upwardly mobile campaign manager in order to return home to Willow Lake and stand by her mother ... and also by her old school friend Zach, who is in love with Sonnet. A couple of the plot turns fall into the "highly improbable" category — but also into the "highly entertaining" category.

"Blackberry Winter" by Sarah Jio (Plume, $15, 290 pages). Seattle writer Sarah Jio ("The Violets of March," "The Bungalow") returns with a novel whose name is drawn from a climate phenomenon — a sudden reappearance of winter weather at the time when blackberries are in flower, in May. The year is 2010, and an unpredicted May snowstorm paralyzes Seattle just as a similar snowstorm did 77 years earlier, in 1933.

"Seattle Herald" reporter Claire Aldridge has a features editor who doesn't assign her to write what you'd expect — helpful updates on canceled and postponed events, warm shelters available, and other immediate snow-disaster coverage.

No — he tells her to write not just a story, but a whole section, on "two snowstorms, sharing one calendar date, separated by nearly a century." (This is the same department in which the food critic, traditionally an incognito job for obvious reasons, demands that a new Italian restaurant open up just for her in the middle of the snowstorm, so she can do a review.) Strange doings afoot at the "Seattle Herald"!

As Claire searches through the 1933 files in pursuit of her story, she uncovers sad news items about a lost 3-year-old boy and his desperately poor mother; their story is told in omniscient flashback. Meanwhile, Claire is struggling with an earlier tragedy of her own: a baby who died, and a subsequently strained relationship with her husband, the scion of the newspaper-owning family. The ingenious but highly improbable plot weaves together Claire's research, the lost boy of 1933, and her own husband's elite family in an imaginative denouement.

"The Inn at Rose Harbor" by Debbie Macomber (Ballantine, $26, 330 pages). Famous for her cozy "Blossom Street" knitting books, her cookbooks and her seven New York Times best-sellers, Port Orchard author Macomber herewith begins a new series of novels set in the fictional town of Cedar Cove on the Kitsap Peninsula, the locale of several previous Macomber books. To this setting repairs recent widow Jo Marie Rose, who has decided that buying the bed-and-breakfast of the novel's title will be "the perfect place for starting my new life."

The B&B also brings in an assortment of interesting characters, all with past lives that haunt them: Abby, who can't get over the fact that her high-school best friend died in an unavoidable auto accident with Abby at the wheel, and Josh, who has returned to his hometown to be at the deathbed of the mean-spirited stepfather who always hated him.

The characters and their various entanglements are sure to resonate with Macomber fans. Despite an odd narrative structure (Jo Marie's segments are written as a first-person memoir, but all the other sections have a third-person narrator), the book sets up an appealing milieu of townspeople and visitors that sets the stage for what will doubtless be many further adventures at the Inn at Rose Harbor.

Melinda Bargreen: www.melindabargreen.com

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